Riding for a cause: Horse and rider depart on 14,000-mile journey to raise awareness for domestic violence | TheUnion.com

Riding for a cause: Horse and rider depart on 14,000-mile journey to raise awareness for domestic violence

Laura Petersen
Special to The Union

On New Year's Day, Meredith Cherry and her horse, Apollo, will leave Penn Valley, setting foot on a solo 14,000-mile adventure — a three-year ride visiting 48 state capitols to spread awareness about domestic violence.

Horse and rider spent the past three years preparing for the journey that departs in the dead of winter and won't be completed until 2020 — exceeding the distance between the North and South poles — to be the first 48-state ride for a woman.

Four years ago, Cherry escaped a violent relationship, after living a decade confused about what was happening to her. Upon leaving the relationship, she discovered society had a lot to learn about domestic violence.

"I found that, both during and after this experience, that there was a lot of confusion and misunderstanding in the general public — including family and friends who wanted to help but just had no clue," Cherry said. "There is a stigma about being a domestic violence victim that perpetuates the problem. People don't want to talk about it. I hope that by opening up the dialogue I can perhaps help women avoid or deal with abusive situations in a strong, safe way."

At noon on Sunday, Jan. 1, locals will gather for a send-off event at the Penn Valley Rodeo grounds. Cherry and Apollo will spend the next six days traveling west to Sacramento before heading north on a Pacific West route, avoiding snowy passes as much as possible.

Cherry has a degree in equine science and has worked with horses for 20 years — as a wrangler in the Colorado Rockies and horse trekking in India — but has never before set out on a trip like this. In some ways, the trip marks a new beginning, similar to when she left behind a life entangled by domestic violence.

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"When I left my marriage, I left everything behind and only was able to take a few belongings. On this ride, too, I am again leaving behind, the life I've built, and starting a new life with as little baggage as possible," she said.

Considered a "silent epidemic," it is estimated that one in three women will be domestic violence victims at some point in their lives, usually between the ages of 19 and 34, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Cherry says she will ride to domestic violence centers, women's shelters, schools and community centers spreading hope and awareness to other women dealing with domestic violence.

Apollo is a Peruvian Paso-Mustang palomino gelding. Getting ready for the trip went beyond typical horse training. The animal must be comfortable around livestock, crowds, dogs, bicycles, traffic, trains and water crossings. Clever, with spirit and stamina, the 8-year-old horse will carry all the ultra-light backpacking provisions for the journey — mostly backcountry roads and bike paths — in a few bags on his saddle.

Following the U.S. Calvary method, horse and rider will stop once an hour to allow Apollo to graze. They will carry enough supplemental feed for a couple days. In areas of the country where complete feed will need to be carried, Cherry plans to walk to help reduce the weight her horse carries. Riding in populated areas will prevent the need to carry excess weight in water rations.

The team will camp some nights, and other times, rely on the hospitality of strangers — an estimated 1,000 of them — who will let her pitch her tent in the yard along her journey.

Despite years of physical and logistical planning, as the day draws near, Cherry admits feeling some apprehension.

"It's a terrible, fabulous idea," she said. "There are so many things that could go wrong, and probably will. Luckily, problems can always be dealt with as they arise. I look forward to seeing the country from this perspective. Horse travel requires you slow down and be in the moment, continually."

The ride's name and logo is loaded with meaning. In mythology, "centauride" is a female centaur — the legendary half horse, half human creature. The purple logo is encircled by a ring — symbolic of the circle of violence characteristic of every domestic violent relationship. A closer look at the ride's emblem reveals the centauride holding a bow and arrow.

"In Tantric Buddhism, a bow and arrow symbolize the concentration and mindfulness to overcome suffering and achieve liberation. The Buddha's teachings are what ultimately gave me the mental strength to escape my own abusive relationship. The centauride's bow and arrow symbolize my goal to help others achieve their own liberation from domestic violence," Cherry said.

Cherry is funding the ride on savings and credit cards. She hopes to raise $12,000 to fund the ride. A GoFundMe account has been set up through her website.

Learn more at: http://www.centauride.org

Contact freelance writer Laura Petersen at laurapetersen310@gmail.com or 530-913-3067.

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